Words and images: Richard Cornish
Opa is a Greek word that defies literal translation. But it’s the word you use when you smash a plate at a Greek wedding; you cry ‘opa’. When you pop a cork on bubbles, accidentally drop a glass, you say ‘opa’! It is a beautiful expression that defines the unexpected pleasures and the little surprises that make life.
Opa Echuca is a Greek restaurant that itself is a serendipitous find. Although it opened shortly before Christmas, it is only in the past few weeks that owner Nick Raftellis feels that his new venture has hit its straps. The long-time fishmonger and fish and chip shop owner is a well-known figure in this part of the world, but his foray into cooking and serving a Greek taverna-style menu is new to him. “I am a cook, not a chef,” says Nick. “I have my trained chef Yogesh Rawat to run the kitchen professionally and finish the dishes,” he says. Yogesh, previously working with Stokehouse in St Kilda, loves the simple honesty of Greek food. “It is about fresh ingredients cooked simply. Sometimes less is more.”
Nick runs the grill cooking fine, young lamb cutlets to have a golden exterior and juicy pink interior. Served with baked potato redolent of lemon and oregano, it speaks of the beautiful honesty of the food here. South Australian octopus is grilled over charcoal, as is all meats and seafood (Nick says he has never cooked over gas flame in his life) is super succulent and served with a tangy, rich puree of fava beans with Greek capers and pickled shallot. Also, expect hortokeftedes, fried spinach patties crisp outside and creamy inside served with dill rich tzatziki.
The action happens in a historic mid 19th century double storied building, the lead lighting in the front windows spelling out ‘chemist’ and ‘druggist’. The interiors have been painted deep grey-blue with white trim – the colours of Greece without being stereotypical. Classical statuary sits on mantels around the dining rooms; a neon sign illuminates the words It’s All Greek To Me. Paper on linen on square tables, good stemware and comfortable white wooden chairs make for relaxed dining. The staff are enthusiastic, and Nick plays mein host after the grilling is finished.
Opa is fun and embraces a Greek taverna’s casual atmosphere whilst offering a more polished menu and service. The food is excellent, and as Nick and his team gain strength and confidence in the kitchen, he promises the menu will expand.
WHERE: 554 High St, Echuca
WHEN: Tue-Sat 5pm-9pm
MORE INFO: opaechuca.com